Saturday, September 1, 2012

Psalm 92

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 92 and its interpreters.  Psalm 92 is a Psalm for the Sabbath day.

There is scholarly debate about whether Psalm 92 was originally written as a Psalm for the Sabbath, or was later applied to the Sabbath.  In favor of the former view, the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, and the name YHWH appears in Psalm 92 seven times (Jewish Study Bible).  Moreover, the Sabbath is related to creation in Genesis 2:1-3, and Nahum Sarna believes that there are creation themes in Psalm 92, such as God's defeat of chaos.  In favor of the latter view, the Sabbath is not explicitly mentioned in Psalm 92, which appears to be a standard Psalm about God's defeat of the wicked and vindication of the righteous.  Marvin Tate refers to the view that Psalm 92 was originally a Psalm of thanksgiving by the king after God had delivered him in battle, and it was later applied to the Sabbath.

I do not know whether Psalm 92 was originally composed for the Sabbath or not.  But Psalm 92 does seem fitting for the Sabbath.  The Sabbath is about rest.  And what is more restful than not having to worry about wicked oppressors?  Not surprisingly, there are Jewish interpreters (Rashi and Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hoshanah 31a) that interpret the Psalm eschatologically----as God bringing in a time of rest and peace at the end of days.

But there have been other proposed settings for Psalm 92.  There is one rabbinic view that Psalm 92 was spoken by Adam on the very first Sabbath day.  In the Midrash on the Psalms, there is a story about God relenting from destroying Adam in Gehenna because the Sabbath was approaching, even though Adam had sinned against God, and Adam spends the Sabbath in a state of happiness because God has spared his life.  (You'd think that Judaism regarded the Sabbath as an ordinance for all people----Jew and Gentile----because it maintained that Adam kept the Sabbath, but there is also a view in the Midrash on the Psalms that the Sabbath was God's special gift for Israel alone.)  Charles Spurgeon critiques the idea that Psalm 92 was by Adam because the Psalm mentions harps and wicked people, and Adam did not play harps or contend with wicked human beings.  But the Midrash on the Psalms does not apply all of the Psalm to Adam but contains applications of its contents to other situations, as well.

E.W. Bullinger, who holds that Psalm 92 is part of the Numbers book in Psalms (since it's in the fourth book, and Bullinger interprets the division of books in the Psalms in light of the books of the Pentateuch), inquires if Psalm 92 can relate to the stoning of the Sabbathbreaker in Numbers 15:32-41.  I suppose that can fit, in areas.  The Sabbathbreaker could perhaps be characterized as a brutish man (to draw from the KJV's rendering of Psalm 92:6) who did not comprehend the depth of God's works, plus Psalm 92 is about the destruction of the wicked.  But Psalm 92:11 says that the wicked rise up against the Psalmist.  Would that apply to the Sabbathbreaker?  Well, people rose up against Moses on a regular basis, and perhaps one could argue that Moses thought that the stoning of the Sabbathbreaker was part of God's larger judgment of Israel's rebellion against God and God's authority structure.

A question that came up in my reading was why the creation story in Genesis 1-2:3 says that there was evening and morning for the days of creation, but not for the Sabbath.  The Midrash on the Psalms contains two ideas.  First, evening and morning are related to work, for people sleep in the evening to prepare for work the next day.  But, on the Sabbath, the Israelites are not to be burdened with work.  Second, the evening is a time of darkness, and the Sabbath is a day of no darkness, or evil.  While that coincides with the message of Psalm 92 that God will defeat the wicked, evening and morning are still in the Psalm, for the Psalmist talks in v 2 about celebrating God every day and night.

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